Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Duke rises to the occasion again

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORKAP, NEW YORKAP, CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor, right, tries to drive on Rockets center Yao Ming during the second half in Charlotte, North Carolina on Saturday. Okafor scored 23 points and pulled down 17 rebounds as Charlotte won in overtime, 101-100.

PHOTO: AP

In vintage Duke style, the momentum swung with a few pairs of palms being slapped on the floor.

After toiling for most of game against a more physical Oklahoma team, Duke finally made a stand, and the seventh-ranked Blue Devils held on for a 78-67 victory Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Trailing by as many as 12 points early in the second half, the Blue Devils used staunch defensive pressure in the backcourt to get back into the game. Spearheaded by guards Sean Dockery and Daniel Ewing, Duke turned the momentum by forcing three turnovers in four possessions.

The Blue Devils converted on easy transition baskets, rekindling images of former Duke stars like Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams slapping their hands on the hardwood to signify the need for a defensive stand.

Many of Duke's early struggles were a result of J.J. Redick's poor shooting, as he failed to find a rhythm on offense against Oklahoma's more athletic guards. Redick was 1 for 7 from the field in the first half, and his first three field goals were on jump shots off identical inbounds plays.

But when Redick finally scored within the flow of the game, on a twisting layup, he tied the score at 50-50 with 11 minutes 42 seconds remaining. He hit 3-pointers on Duke's next two possessions to give the Blue Devils a 56-52 lead.

Redick had a game-high 26 points, despite scoring just 7 in the first half.

After Redick's scoring spree, Duke never trailed. It overcame foul trouble in the process. Forward Shavlik Randolph fouled out with 11:29 remaining in the second half. He did not score.

But Redick carried the Blue Devils down the stretch, and he delivered the crucial blow with a 3-pointer over Oklahoma guard Drew Lavender with 2:54 remaining. The shot gave Duke a 9-point lead as Redick nodded his head in approval, knowing he had essentially ended the Sooners' chances.

Oklahoma never mustered any consistent offense in the second half, shooting 30 percent from the field. Forwards Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray struggled to get the ball in the post.

Even with Randolph out of the game, the Blue Devils managed to hold Gray in check after he dominated the first half, scoring 12 points. Shelden Williams was mainly responsible, as he played most of the second half with three fouls and never let Gray get in the flow of the game.

Gray finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Three days after being hired as the new basketball coach at Southern California, Rick Majerus backed out of the deal and will stay at the cable television sports network ESPN as a college basketball analyst.

"Rick expressed to us that he had a change of heart and wondered if the possibility still existed for him to work for ESPN. And it does," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said Saturday night. "We told him he could [return]."

Majerus, who cited health reasons when he retired in January after 15 seasons as Utah's coach, was announced as the Trojans' incoming coach Wednesday. He was to assume the post on April 1.

"We plan to meet with Rick on Monday. Until then, there's really nothing we can say," USC athletic director Mike Garrett said in a statement.

USC spokesman Tim Tessalone said the meeting had already been planned.

Majerus coached Utah to the national championship game in 1998, losing to Kentucky, one of the school's 10 NCAA tournament appearances during his tenure. His other stints were at Ball State, Marquette and with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant.

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